Iain Banks: ‘I used anger at death in final book’

Iain Banks with Kirsty Wark. Banks gave his final TV interview to Wark - it will be broadcast tonight. Picture: BBC
Iain Banks with Kirsty Wark. Banks gave his final TV interview to Wark - it will be broadcast tonight. Picture: BBC
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WRITER Iain Banks poured his “darkest thoughts” into his final book after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he said in his last television interview to be broadcast tonight.

The best-selling author of 29 books, who died on Sunday, told Kirsty Wark that he wrote a “rant” for his lead character in his novel, The Quarry, in which he “went to town” on the idea of death.

Although he had almost completed the novel, which coincidentally chronicles the physical and emotional strain of living with cancer, by the time he learned he had the disease himself Banks said he used his feelings to finish the work.

Speaking to Wark last month, Banks said: “When I first got the original bad news in the Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy, I’d taken my laptop in – I thought I might do a bit of work while I was there.

“And I couldn’t really be bothered. I’d basically done my words for the day anyway. So, having got this news, I sat in bed and I wrote. There’s a bit in the book [The Quarry] where the character Guy says ‘I shall not be upset to leave this stupid bloody country and this bloody human race and this idiotic world’ and the rest of it – it’s a proper rant.

“I remember sitting there and thinking right out, ‘you’ve got to use some of these feelings that you’re having right now. Use it to go to town on the whole idea’, so some of my darkest thoughts at that point were channelled into that bit of writing.”

“I was 87,000 words into the book before I discovered the bad news. I had no inkling. So it wasn’t as though this is a response to the disease or anything – the book had been kind of ready to go. And then 10,000 words from the end, as it turned out, I suddenly discovered that I had cancer.”

Banks, 59, revealed he was dying two months ago. He told Wark his cancer diagnosis was “just bad luck”.

He said: “My reaction was along the lines of ‘oh bugger’.

“It’s one of these things I guess. In a sense, you rehearse in your head. You sort of game it, you play it, you think ‘how would I feel?’, and ‘how would I react if a loved one dies or is delivered of a verdict, a prognosis like that?’.

“If you’re writing about people who are facing death, you automatically have to embody that, you have to take that in quite seriously.

“It did strike me almost immediately, my atheist sort of thing kicked in and I thought, ‘ha, if I was a God-botherer, I’d be thinking, why me God? What have I done to deserve this?’ And I thought at least I’m free of that, at least I can simply treat it as bad luck and get on with it.”

Since going public with his illness, Banks said he had been delighted by messages of love and admiration written on his blog.

He added: “I’ve had a brilliant life and I think I’ve been more lucky than unlucky, even including the news of the cancer. I’ve written 29 books. I’m leaving a substantial body of work behind me. I can be quite proud of that and I am.

“There’s none of the books that I’m not proud of. There’s ones that I think I could have done better with. I still think Canal Dreams is the runt of the litter but I’m still very, very proud of The Wasp Factory. I don’t have many regrets in my life. I suppose like a lot of men I’ve hurt women when I was being selfish or there’s a real hurt towards ex-girlfriends that didn’t need to have happened.”

He also gave details of what he wished for his funeral. “I’ve thought about it. I guess it would just be the local crematorium. Adele [his wife] has then promised to scatter my ashes in the Grand Canal in Venice, just a small amount, but in secret if necessary. And in front of a certain café in Paris, put some into a rocket to be fired over the Forth, again quite a small amount.

“And, oh yeah, some onto a beach on Barra – Vatersay, or wherever. But not too much in any. Most of them actually remain in the urn and will be sunk where my dad’s ashes are sunk, in Loch Shiel.”

• Iain Banks: Raw Spirit will be broadcast on BBC2 Scotland today at 9pm